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"This is OK advice if all you want to do is finish a PhD as quickly as possible (ignore course work and any studying not directly related to your dissertation), but it's terrible advice if you want to (a) become a broadly smart individual or (b) do research later on anything else besides the tiny topic of your dissertation."

The article is not titled "How to become a broadly smart individual" -- it's titled "Easy ways to fail a Ph.D." And the advice is exactly correct.

You have your whole life to become "broadly smart", and grad school is not the only time in your life when you'll have the freedom to learn stuff (it's not even the best time). The point of a PhD is to finish. If you forget that fact, you will fail.

Nearly every grad student wastes a little bit of time doing unrelated learning, and to some extent, that's expected. But you're perceived as wasting your advisor's funding, you're ruined. If you're on a TA-ship, you're wasting time and opportunity cost. If you're not funded, you're wasting (a lot of) your own money.

If you want to be a broadly smart individual, finish grad school as quickly as possible, become a professor, get tenure, and you'll have the rest of your life to study whatever you like. But if you take 10 years to get your Ph.D., you won't have the chance.




> The article is not titled "How to become a broadly smart individual" -- it's titled "Easy ways to fail a Ph.D."

That's why I said "This is OK advice if all you want to do is finish a PhD as quickly as possible."

Professors don't give this advice to students in the form "If you want to finish ASAP, take this advice, but really finishing ASAP isn't a good idea". They just give the advice, and it's bad.

> But you're perceived as wasting your advisor's funding, you're ruined.

I didn't say waste. There is a balance. And if your advisor treats you as a research technician, and only pays you conditional on working full-time on his research, you ought to change advisors.

>If you want to be a broadly smart individual, finish grad school as quickly as possible, become a professor, get tenure, and you'll have the rest of your life to study whatever you like.

First, ask any tenured professor and they'll tell you they have the much less time for free thinking then they had in grad schools. Grant writing, committee siting, etc., soaks up most of their time.

Second, the average age to get tenure is 39:

http://blogs.physicstoday.org/newspicks/2009/11/family-is-th...

Waiting until you're 40 to do your independent, free thinking is a good way to make sure you never do anything original.

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You seem to be quite dedicated to ignoring the point of the article. Again, if you want to be "broadly educated", go do something else. A PhD program is not the right place for personal exploration.

A doctorate is not about broad education, and the assumption of the author (all advisors, really) is that you want to get a PhD -- because if what you really want is an extended version of an undergraduate education, then the best advice is to put the PhD on hold, and go find yourself for a while. Otherwise, you're most definitely wasting something -- time, money, resources, etc. -- and a good advisor is going to redirect your mis-spent efforts as soon as they're aware. It's not about treating you like a "technician", so much as it's about trying to save you from a tremendously unpleasant experience.

"First, ask any tenured professor and they'll tell you they have the much less time for free thinking then they had in grad schools. Grant writing, committee siting, etc., soaks up most of their time. Second, the average age to get tenure is 39"

If you're unhappy about the life of a professor, then don't get a PhD. Sure, you can enter a PhD program, screw around for a few years to take some classes and gain "broad" knowledge -- but don't be surprised when you get kicked out. And then, don't be surprised when you have a multi-year gap on your resume with nothing to show for it but some bad recommendations.

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I'm not interested in being "broadly educated". In fact, if you knew me, you'd think that laughable. I am no polymath, nor do I aspire to be.

I'm talking about having a broad education within your field, i.e. taking course not directly related to your thesis that can give you insight on your thesis or on something you might research afterwards.

>>"First, ask any tenured professor and they'll tell you they have the much less time for free thinking then they had in grad schools. Grant writing, committee siting, etc., soaks up most of their time. Second, the average age to get tenure is 39"

>If you're unhappy about the life of a professor, then don't get a PhD.

I'm not complaining about the life of a professor, I'm challenging the idea that you should wait until you're tenured to think new ideas.

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I kind of agree with the author, although I see your points. If you are talking about getting a broader understanding of your subject then that's pretty much part of the phd and nobody will argue against you for studying things that you think _may_ be relevant.

On the other hand a PhD is not the place to study Arabic or Sociology if you want to be a high energy physics: you can do that, but in your free time, not in the University paid time. For a long time I thought it would be great to be a student all my life and just go to lectures and learn. But nowadays I know that if I want to learn I can pick up a book and learn. That's how a lot of people do: undergraduate is there to give you the tools but also to teach you the method.

Anyone worth their salt with a phd can study another topic by themselves: you don't need to be lectured and have tutorial anymore.

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Saying "really finishing ASAP isn't a good idea" is an advisor fail. Much of these points are advisor fails: it's your advisor who should be pushing you through grad school. They've seen it multiple times. You've seen it once.

If your advisor has recommended you should finish your PhD, you should finish your PhD. If he/she is saying "I don't think you have the wide knowledge base to properly understand this subject", then you start taking more classes. My advisor is talking to me about taking philosophy of science and software studies. They aren't critical path by any stretch of the imagination. But he thinks I need it.

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Wow, the ultimate in of jumping hoops to live life how you want it: tenure. You can do exploratory learning after you've done all of this preliminary stuff when your 32!

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